Rudolph believes he can be the Vikings' Gronk

Kyle Rudolph (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Kyle Rudolph has similar qualities to record-setting tight end Rob Gronkowski but he didn't have the same level of production in his rookie season. Rudolph believes it can all come together for him this year and doesn't shy away from the Gronkowski comparisons.

Asked about Kyle Rudolph repeatedly following Tuesday's organized team activity, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder smiled and asked his own question: "What? Is it Kyle Rudolph day?"

Actually, yes, if the number of passes thrown Rudolph's way – by Ponder – on Tuesday was any indication.

Rudolph, the Vikings' second-round tight end in the 2011 draft, was first tied to Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski during the predraft process by NFL Draft Report.

"Rudolph could be the best tight end to come out of Notre Dame in recent years," the scouting service wrote before last year's draft while comparing him to Gronkowski. "He is a big, physical tight end, but because of some durability concerns, no owner or GM will be willing to risk first-round money on him. The rewards would be great if he's fully recovered, but look for him to be on board until the draft's second day."

That's almost exactly how it went. Rudolph fell out of the first round and the Vikings were giddy to get him.

Even after Gronkowski's record-setting season for a tight end last year – 17 touchdowns, along with 90 catches for 1,327 yards – Rudolph doesn't shy away from the comparison. As he pointed out, some of the comparisons stem from their similar body structures.

Gronkowski is 6-foot-6, 265 pounds. Rudolph is 6-6, 258.

"I think it's known to everyone (that) Gronkowski and I are very similar from a height, weight, speed standpoint. Watching a lot of his catches from last year and a lot of his touchdowns, just the way that he's able to use his body and create separation are some of things that I'm trying to incorporate," Rudolph said. "And then you watch guys like Jason Witten, Tony Gonzales, the way they're able to create separation, it's one thing when they're running their route – tight ends aren't guys that are going to burn down the field, but we're fast enough and if we can create that little bit of separation, it makes all the difference."

Gronkowski signed a six-year, $54 million contract extension with the Patriots last week. Despite the difference in money – Rudolph is averaging $1.16 million over his four-year rookie deal – there are other similarities besides their body structure.

Gronkowski had back surgery in college at Arizona and didn't work out at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2010. When Rudolph went to the combine the following year, he was still recovering from a hamstring that was torn off the bone.

Those injuries likely affect both players' rookie seasons. Gronkowski started 11 of 16 games and still caught 42 passes for 546 yards and 10 touchdowns, but the receptions and yards were less than half of what he accomplished in his second, record-setting season.

Rudolph said he didn't feel like he had his pre-injury explosion until halfway through his rookie seasons. Without an offseason, he didn't produce big numbers last year – 26 receptions for 249 yards and three touchdowns – but he isn't dissuaded from believing he can be the Gronkowski of the Vikings offense.

"Definitely. I watch a lot of those guys' tape. I've studied all the great ones – Tony Gonzales, Jason Witten, Antonio Gates and just see the success that they've had in the passing game and I feel I can do that same thing here," Rudolph said. "That's my approach every day when I come out here is to be able to emulate some of things they do in their route-running and make plays in the pass game."

The Vikings were one of the top teams in the league with their use of two- and three-tight end sets last year. Despite losing Jim Kleinsasser to retirement and Visanthe Shiancoe still lingering on the free-agent market, Rudolph believes the Vikings can mimic the offensive success of the New England Patriots.

"It's a copycat league. Teams that are having success, just look across the league with not even (tight ends) but the passing game in general – shotgun and stuff like that – how many teams are utilizing that into your offense," Rudolph said. "We feel like with the success the tight ends are having we can have that same success here."

Frazier believes Rudolph's "great hands" and body control in the receiving game are only part of the equation. The other part? He is developing his blocking skills, too.

"Although we don't have on pads right now, seeing his effort when we're trying to block without pads gives you hope," Frazier said. "With Jimmy retiring, we're going to need someone to stabilize the line of scrimmage and he's shown that he has the potential to be that person and we know what he can do receiving."

The skills all seem to be there for Rudolph. He has the height, size and speed of the most productive tight end in the NFL last year. The big question is whether those characteristics and his improved health will all come together for a breakout season this year.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.


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